Geek Culture
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Geek Culture

4 Tech Mentorship Programs That Close the Gender Gap

At all stages of professional development

Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

A “last of the Mohicans” to embrace inclusivity among established patriarchal fields, the STEM industry (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) has been historically slowest to welcome women into its realms.

Progress made over recent decades has been steady, yet still far from satisfactory. From 8% of women in the STEM industry in 1970, today’s workforce shows 19% of positions being filled by women. As female experts in tech and STEM agree, propelling those numbers forward, closing the gender gap, and embracing diversity is a matter of providing the right learning and mentorship opportunities for women of all ages.

Over the past decades, the major driver of change for women in tech and STEM has been the growing number of mentorship programs. Offering coaching at all levels, including entry point careers, technical development, and support at advanced research stages, mentorship provides life-changing opportunities and is often free.

I talked to female professionals in tech whose life and career pivoted thanks to timely mentorship. Here are the national mentorship programs that helped them fly right through the infamous gender gap.

NPower

Recommended by: Teniola Akande, IT Support Apprentice at Google

A national tech training nonprofit, NPower provides free, virtual 23-week-long classes in IT, cybersecurity, and cloud technology. NPower MATCH is the nonprofit’s online platform that pairs young adults aged 18–25 with an interest in a tech career with their personal mentor, a professional in their desired field. Mentorship sessions are weekly and focus on career readiness, professional and personal branding, leadership skills, financial planning, and addressing the mentee’s individual questions.

Teniola Akande is a recent graduate of NPower New Jersey’s Tech Fundamentals class who also holds CompTIA certification and a Google IT Support Certificate.

“The biggest lesson I learned from my mentor is understanding that I do not have to do this alone,” Teniola says. “I have always done things by myself and never really knew when or how to reach out, but my mentor made me understand that she is always there and to contact her whenever I needed help.”

Teniola also points out that mentorship dramatically builds the confidence of women in tech fields and demonstrates the importance of a strong support network.

“Having someone to rely on for guidance and advice made me more confident. Since having a mentor, I have forged the habit of speaking up and connecting with people who have experienced what I am experiencing for advice on succeeding and this has ultimately helped with my career.

Women in Tech Global

Recommended by: Valeria Shelenkova, junior engineer, MightyCall

Women in Tech is a global non-profit that’s aimed at closing the gender gap and breaking down any barriers stopping women from pursuing careers in STEM. It helps women set career goals, develop hard skills and soft skills, and gain a strong support network.

Valeria participated in an IT initiation program provided by her local chapter of Women in Tech. As a result, she launched an IT career from scratch and nailed her first engineering job in less than a year after ‘breaking the ice’, i.e., taking her first steps in IT.

“The Women in Tech program offered several options, including those for beginners in IT like me, women in tech looking to propel their career and leadership skills, programs with a tech focus, and so on. I chose the one called ‘Entry into IT’. Over 4 months, we had monthly one-on-one mentorship sessions, daily online networking, free webinars in hard and soft skills, and offline meetups. Best of all, my mentor was selected for me individually, based on my specific criteria. She provided so much insight to me and inspired me so much, that I hope to one day become a mentor myself, so I can help other women embarking on a tech career.”

Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

SWE

Recommended by: Sara Peter, general engineer, US Navy

SWE, also known as the Society of Women Engineers, is a U.S -based international organization pursuing various aspects of advancing women in STEM fields. Since its foundation 70 years ago, the society has guided women interested in pursuing an engineering career at all levels.

As Sara Peter shares, “I was involved throughout high school and college with this organization and I don’t believe I would have the confidence in the workplace I do today without it. I learned how important it is for women to have a support system in the workplace and how deserving we all are to ‘have a place at the table’. We work so hard and shouldn’t be afraid to be confident in our skills.

“Having SWE peers and alumni connections at college made me more comfortable and confident in pursuing my degrees. I knew there was always someone I could turn to with an issue and a group that would help me move past it.”

SWE offers youth programs, collegiate programs, professional programs, and mentorship for women in STEM at all stages of their career journey.

AWS

Recommended by: Adriana Gascoigne, founder and CEO, Girls in Tech

Girls in Tech is a San Francisco-based non-profit organization active worldwide. It’s devoted to empowering, educating, and engaging women in the tech industry across 50 chapters all around the world.

Adriana Gascoigne is the founder and CEO of Girls in Tech but more than that, she’s someone who has held tech executive roles throughout her life. Adriana’s NPO comes from a firsthand experience of the challenges of the tech road joined to the practical knowledge of how to steer women clear of the pitfalls.

“Having someone believe in you, listen to you, and encourage you through career highs and lows is invaluable, especially for women who have been historically underrepresented in tech for so long. A key aspect of Girls in Tech is our emphasis on mentorship and why we encourage all women pursuing careers in tech to find someone in the industry they can go to for advice.’

One reason why Girls in Tech has grown into such a wide support network is that Adriana packed her own experience as a former mentee into the company’s mission. Adriana was mentored by Sandy Carter at Amazon Web Services (AWS) and the company supports Girls in Tech efforts including the organization’s annual Digital Career Fair, a global virtual hackathon and its Virtual Mentorship Program.

“I’m incredibly lucky and grateful to have found a mentor — Amazon Web Services Vice President Sandy Carter, a longtime supporter of me and my nonprofit — and I try to pay it forward whenever possible,” Adriana says. “The most important piece of advice Sandy ever shared with me was to ‘take the high road’. When times are tough, things have gotten me down, she encouraged me to think about the end goal, the light and the end of the tunnel, and find the most graceful, professional and elegant path to getting there.”

Final word

STEM is an incredibly inclusive field in its essence since long-term success in this industry thrives only on personal merit. And today, there are more opportunities than ever to explore STEM at any age, career point, and stage of professional development.

As Teresa Shea, VP cyber offense and defense experts, CODEX, Raytheon Intelligence and Space points out, “Remember that STEM is not monolithic. If you don’t love math, you can still be a great scientist. If you hate science, you may excel at programming. Find your niche and stick with it.”

For a vibrant career in STEM, mentorship remains the chute that will get you up and flying ahead of the crowd. Choose the mentorship program suitable for you and you’ll be amazed at the support, learning, and enjoyment you get out of the process of conquering STEM. Because each girl that makes a leap of faith is a girl that brings our society closer to eliminating the gender gap in STEM.

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